An overflow crowd was denied a look at first-round draft pick Matt Jones, but those in attendance at the Jaguars' Saturday morning mini-camp practice got a good look at the team's new downfield pass-offense.
Reggie Williams, Ernest Wilford, Jimmy Smith and Cortez Hankton all caught deep passes this morning, to the delight of fans who presumably were attracted to Alltel Stadium by Jones, the rookie wide receiver from Arkansas. Jones did not participate in passing drills because of a hamstring strain he sustained in Friday afternoon's workout.
"Lots of people out here today. It helped create energy for the guys. Our guys feel the excitement for the football team right now," coach Jack Del Rio told reporters following the practice.
Excitement began building quickly with the selection of Jones in last weekend's NFL draft. Jones even attracted a hog-headed Arkansas fan to Saturday morning's practice.
Were fans disappointed that Jones couldn't go? Probably, but Williams picked up the slack and nobody was complaining.
Following a mildly-disappointing rookie season, Williams gave fans a preview of what might be ahead this year. He beat Rashean Mathis and Deon Grant to make a leaping grab of a Byron Leftwich pass in the right-front corner of the end zone. Earlier in the drill, Williams beat Mathis deep but the pass from Leftwich was underthrown.
Williams followed his touchdown grab with a brief end zone celebration, to the delight of the crowd. If Williams' celebration was a little over the top for April, he could be forgiven. His rookie season didn't allow for such luxuries.
"I've maintained the same thing," Del Rio said when asked to comment on Williams' performance in practice. "When you're smart and tough and willing to work at it, and you've got talent, it's my experience that those guys play well."
Last year's other rookie wide receiver, Wilford, sizzled under the warmest sun of the spring. Wilford made a beautiful, over-the-wrong-shoulder touchdown catch of a deep pass from David Garrard. Wilford beat cornerback Chris Thompson on the play.
Later in the drill, Wilford beat cornerback Kenny Wright to haul in another deep pass from Garrard.
Jimmy Smith blew by the trio of Wright, Nick
Sorensen and Terry Cousin to catch a deep touchdown pass from Leftwich that floated beautifully into Smith's outstretched hands.
Hankton got into the act with a couple of nifty grabs. He caught a ball over the middle while in traffic, then wrestled a Leftwich deep pass away from cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas.
"You'll see the ball go vertically. Carl (Smith) said he'll go for it. Jimmy Smith is one of the elite deep-ball receivers in the league and we're going to utilize that," Del Rio said.
Carl Smith is the Jaguars' new offensive coordinator. He is said to be an advocate of a strong running game and a deep passing game.
"I think we have some talented wide receivers. We need to throw it and catch it better. Everybody knows that," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars were 21st in the league in total offense last season; 19th in passing and 16th in rushing.
Mini-camp will conclude following practices Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Sunday's practice is closed to the public.
"The big thing is to begin to build a sense of team. It's about us and what we can accomplish this fall," Del Rio said.